Back to school: The KID program in Hungary

 
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Zoltán Györgyi

              Back to school: The KID program in Hungary
Introduction
        In Hungary, as in many other countries, some young people do not attain the
educational level that the labour market would require, which creates quite a big social
problem but which also excludes them from the labour market and prevents them from
integrating into society.
        The current unemployment rate is 7% in Hungary, which can be regarded as
moderately high by European standards. However, there are two main factors that exacerbate
the unemployment situation. One is that it is unevenly distributed in the country (the rate
varies from 2.5 to 20.8% in the various micro-regions), and the other is that 30% of the
unemployed are permanently jobless (for at least a year), which represents quite a high
proportion      (http://www.afsz.hu/engine.aspx?page=full_afsz_stat_telepules_adatok_2008).
Experience shows that approximately after a year of unemployment personalities start to
become disintegrated, and the chances of being able to fit into any kind of workplace again
begin to drop dramatically.
        With the knowledge of these statistics, prevention is vital and has a high priority in the
case of young people who have no job experience at all, partly because often their incomplete
or unsatisfactory education prevents them from employment and from fitting into a workplace
and partly because of their family backgrounds with high unemployment rates, the absence of
positive role models for them and negative behavioural patterns.
        A discrepancy used to characterise the Hungarian educational system. The compulsory
school attendance age was 16, but the secondary education the labour market most often
required could not been possibly attained before 18 or 19. Raising obligatory school
attendance to 18 years (in the case of students who were born in 1992 or after) has improved
the situation only partly, because it is not going to help the students who fail a whole school
year and have to start it again, ending up either finishing their studies over-age or likely to
leave school early without completing formal educational attainment. Statistics show how
serious the situation is, with 4% of a peer age group not completing their primary school
studies and 6% of them dropping out of secondary education, mostly from vocational training
schools.
        The reasons for incomplete educational attainment have long been studied and
analysed, so we know that it is a complex social phenomenon that originates from family
backgrounds and the educational levels and social status of the parents, including their
motivations and attitudes to work. Although various institutes try to handle the social, mental
and educational problems of the youngsters involved, real breakthrough has not been made
yet, primarily because the institutional system is incoherent and is not able to see and deal
with problems and solutions as a unity, a coherent whole. The state control over education and
social care has disintegrated and the local authorities are weak, so they have not been able to
find a comprehensive solution to this urgent problem.
        Realising the urgency of this situation, OFA (the National Employment Foundation,
Országos Foglalkoztatási Közalapítvány), which has long been dealing with supporting pilot
programs, mostly in connection with the labour market, worked out the so-called KID
program in 2002, with the aim of helping young people between 16 and 25 with their
integration into their workplaces and society. There are two branches of the KID program
operating parallel with each other in one organic unity. They provide preparatory courses for
youngsters who commit themselves to attaining higher education or professional
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qualifications and for those who do not want this commitment they organise catch up courses,
where they can acquire the necessary competencies, armed with which they can hopefully
enter and in the longer run remain in the labour market.
        The name of the program is a reference to the age of the participants, but it is actually
a blended word, which refers to the methodology that all participating organisations are
obliged to follow. OFA as a sponsor organisation supports the initiation and development of
programs if they have a complex Kit of tools and if they can coordinate the organisations
working in different sectors and areas in an Integrated cooperation to provide Differentiated
help according to the needs of the individual or a special social group.
      Eight civil organisations supported by OFA took up these tasks in the first few years.
These organisations were chosen in a tender process. Many of them had participated in similar
programs, which however had been designed for different age and social groups or applied
different methodological tools. This study is based on the findings of the first three years
(Fehérvári & Györgyi, 2006; Györgyi & Szerepi, 2007). It has to be emphasised, however,
that the program has not finished yet, but has now been financed from different resources and
has been significantly extended.

Aims
        The sponsor organisation tried to experiment with the concrete methodologies and
solutions with the participation of the local resources, which would provide a comprehensive
basis for handling the problem. They did not intend to work out an absolute model which has
only homogeneous elements, but instead a principally heterogeneous system, which is based
on the same principles and attitudes.
        OFA expected the KID organisations to cooperate with the appropriate institutes of the
existing institutional system as many times as possible, instead of trying to solve all the
problems on their own, partly to avoid creating parallel institutional structures and partly for
economic reasons.
     The program was completed in one year periods with six month follow-up periods that
normally overlapped with the subsequent program periods as well. The one year duration
stimulated the KID organisations to try to do their best, because only appropriate achievement
and performance ensured their participation in the next program period.
        The two program elements with the aim of leading youngsters back to education and
to the labour market were carried out in parallel with each other, but leading back to education
was more dominant in the program. Mostly the elements of the latter are discussed below.

Realisation
        Getting the participants involved was a separate activity, because the youngsters who
need support are usually not very motivated and do not use their initiative to look for learning
opportunities for themselves. Different techniques were worked out by the various KID
organisations to identify them and to get them involved in the program. Their services were
advertised on billboards and on websites, they visited clubs and other public places frequently
visited by troublesome young people to find potential clients or they used the local media.
Many clients were introduced to the program through one of the threads of the social
connection network – for example, from an employment centre – or were sent by one of the
staff of the social welfare supplying institutes. A significant number of new clients were taken
to the organisations by one of their acquaintances or friends.
         In the case of youngsters who were difficult to mobilise, using the expression of one
of the organisations, they had to use the “dangling the carrot in front of the donkey”
technique, meaning that they had to provide programs that young people would find
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attractive, such as providing free Internet usage, table tennis and table football facilities and a
very wide range of free time activities, or organising night disco parties. In quite a few cases
this represented the first incentive to become involved with the organisation, the staff and the
program.
        The initial phase was designed partly to motivate their clients and partly to get to
know them. That is when the so-called first interview was conducted by the professionals of
the KID organisations, in which they systematically mapped the complexity of factors which
could be connected to their disadvantaged situation, including various social problems,
breaking points in their school career, family problems or mental disorders. In addition to this
they surveyed their abilities, their affinity for certain professions or trades and the most
important malfunctions in their behaviour or lack of certain communication skills. This phase
was the so-called individual status definition in the program.
        At the beginning of the program, in different phases in the different KID
organisations, usually some adventurous educational elements were applied. Various camp
opportunities, adventure trips and entertaining programs were provided for the participants,
preferably of a kind that had been inaccessible to them before, so that their clients became
more devoted to the programme but also because they provided good opportunities for the
professionals to observe their clients in different situations and to define the necessary
developmental steps to be made later on the basis of their observations.
        Participation in the program was voluntary, of course, but partly for educational
considerations (to increase their individual responsibilities), and partly for the viability of the
program, KID organisations concluded cooperation agreements with the participants in which
they recorded the commitments of both the clients and the KID organisation.
        At the beginning of this cooperation agreement (but of course after the individual
status definition), individual development plans were made, which were, after a while,
followed by the final career plans. The development plans recorded mostly the tasks for the
professionals, meaning what competencies of their clients needed to be developed or
strengthened. In that phase only basic competencies (social, learning competencies) were
considered, because it was not known where they would move on to. This was decided only in
the next phase, when the youngsters were able to make decisions in a more responsible way.
Their choice was finalised in their final career plans, as a result of mutual agreement between
the KID organisation staff and the participating youngster. After it was recorded, not only
basic competencies but also the special competencies needed for the chosen profession, trade
or school were to be developed.
        Clients officially participating in the program were transferred to dedicated mentors,
who could ideally follow through the whole development of the youngster in their care
throughout the whole program and then during the follow-up period as well.
        The development activity was to improve or develop various competencies with a wide
range of training programs. Partly these were designed to catch up with learning and to fill
learning gaps, and partly to strengthen social skills (to become self-reliant, to acquire self-
knowledge and to know how to keep behavioural norms).
        Training sessions were organised in groups of 10 to 20 members, but those who were
unable to cooperate with others in groups were identified at the beginning of the program and
dealt with individually.
        Given that the participants’ educational levels, social backgrounds and ambitions and
the labour market opportunities were very different in the different regions, the financing
institute of the KID program gave a free hand to local initiatives in relation to methodologies.
As a result of this a very wide range of methodologies was applied. In the different programs
the topics of the training sessions varied, and different methods were used for getting the
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young people involved or for motivating them, but also different relationships were formed
between staff and participants in the programs. At the same time, several commonalities can
be traced in the different program methodologies and in their competency development
techniques, mostly because the financing institute of the KID program found it important to
establish a national association for all the KID organisations with the aim of enhancing
familiarity with one another’s methodologies to implement them.
        They also tried to solve problems that created hurdles in the individual’s life during
the program. Quite often they contacted the participant’s family, sometimes just to develop a
deeper insight into the youngster’s problem, sometimes with the intention of getting the
family involved in solving the problem.
        If it was necessary, the KID organisations often got other professionals (speech
specialists or psychologists) involved, or turned to the family supporting welfare services, to
the local authorities or to the employment centres for help, so that they could solve, even if
only on a basic level, the various mental and social problems.
        Mentors had a principal role in the programs. Each mentor normally dealt with 10 to
15 clients. The participants could always turn to them with their various problems, and they
were always willing to find the best possible solutions that would still fit into the framing of
the program.
        The maximum one year development period was intended to prepare the participants
fully for the school requirements where they wanted to continue their studies. This was
followed by a six month period when they could still receive further help from the KID
organisations if they needed it.

The organisations implementing the program
        The KID program was mostly implemented by civil organisations that had gained
experience in solving social issues previously. During the three year program, however, their
activities and structures inevitably became restructured and adapted for the new tasks.
Occasionally the specialists changed as well, because not all professionals could come up to
the expectations of the KID program, so they could not always rely on former staff members
(mostly teachers, special educational needs teachers, social workers and psychologists).
         Professionals in those KID organisations who had participated in similar programs
proved to be more adaptable to the new KID tasks. It should be mentioned that the high
professional staff turnover was not independent of the general situation in Hungary, where
working in the civil sector did not provide job security, so quite a few of them were driven to
find steadier job opportunities. Although the KID program provided a three year job
perspective for the workers, it was not at all clear how it was to continue, so those who were
not as committed as the others, and who could not cope with the extra workload, decided to
leave the program whenever they were offered a better job opportunity. Even so, at the end of
the third year of the program there were long-term, reliable, professional staff members
everywhere who were able to fulfil their tasks and to perform them at a very high quality
level.
         OFA prescribed that all KID organisations should cooperate with other local and
regional institutions and organisations in a consortium, and that their cooperation should be
recorded in a written format. Their intention was to establish long-lasting, reliable cooperation
with organisations whose previous connections had been random. Mostly these previous
informal relations were organised into consortia, but quite often new partner institutes became
involved as well.
        The premium partners that participated in every program, and that took the lion’s share
of the real workload were the following: the County Employment and Labour Centres (tracing
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potential participants, providing training benefits); the local authorities (providing
infrastructure); primary schools for adults (providing catch-up programs and learning
competencies); and the family welfare services of the local authorities (providing recruitment
and social support).

Results
        The eight KID organisations tried to get nearly 2800 young people involved in the
program within three years. More than 70% of them became heavily involved, meaning that
they started the preparatory phase to serious work (their development plans were completed).
62% of these 2000 participants managed to complete the program; of those, 72% of them got
into education, while the others found job opportunities in the labour market. We do not have
any statistical figures about their later careers, but we know that many of them finished their
studies and lead more organised lives than before.

                              Statistical data about the KID program

                       Participating groups                                  Outcome
                                                                        Got into
         Individual status Development Final career plan Got into                 Work and
                                                                        labour              Total
            definition     plan completed completed      education                 study
                                                                        market
  2001                969            755              479         286        153               439
  2002                931            662              303         287        103          6    396
  2003                872            598              409         329         88          7    424
Total                2772           2015             1191         902        344         13   1259

        According to an evaluation study (Fehérvári & Györgyi, 2006), two to three years
after finishing the program, 15% of former participants were still studying, and the 63%
unemployment rate had dropped back to 33%. Data also show that for many of them the mere
fact that they were studying gave stimuli to continue their studies, so they were no longer
satisfied with the qualifications that they had attained when they participated in the KID
program.

Summary
        The KID program was a stopgap in Hungary for Hungarian circumstances to help with
the integration of a significant group of youngsters into society, and also, besides extending
the participating organisations’ professional knowledge and connection networks, to ensure
the basis of a future, responsive system. Complexity and diversity emerged in this period, and
each program found the solutions best suited to its region and possibilities, and the
appropriate staff people for the right positions.
        The KID program’s aims, methodology and operating principles proved to be
appropriate, and also that a program network like that is necessary in Hungary.
        The biggest achievement of the program has been that it connects labour market
integration with the issue of social integration. In order to do that, it approaches in a complex
way the problems of youngsters. It does not separate the competencies of the labour market
from the competencies that are necessary for social integration, realising that, without dealing
with the malfunctions and missing skills resulting from inappropriate socialisation, neither
steady employment nor participation in longer term educational training can be achieved.
These two problems and two goals are handled simultaneously, but at the same time
individual problems are not ignored either.
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        Amongst these achievements the methodological development of invoking and
motivating the target group should be included.
       It is also a success indicator of the three year program that the organisers could find
financial state support for the program’s continuation – unfortunately not exactly in the way
that the organisers imagined, but at least it provided a good opportunity to disseminate
information about the program in other towns in Hungary, and this would provide normative
support for financing the program in the longer run, thus helping the disadvantaged
youngsters to settle their lives and careers, or at least alerting them to that possibility.

Acknowledgments
In connection with the KID program mention should be made of the principal role of Tamás Szántó, who as a
staff member of OFA invented the program and was its patron for three years.

References
Fehérvári, A., & Györgyi, Z. (2006). Kiút a gödörből [A ray of hope]. Felsőoktatási
     Kutatóintézet.
Györgyi, Z., & Szerepi, A. (2007). KID programme in Hungary. In Z. Györgyi (Ed.), Give a
     chance: Case studies of programmes from four EU countries to help young people’s
     social and professional inclusion. Oktatáskutató és Fejlesztő Intézet.
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